My trip to China’s prettiest Snow Village also called Xue Xiang or originally named Shuangfeng Forest Farm turns to be my most memorable one in China because that was such a funny experience to join a local Chinese tour all by myself when I did not even speak or understand their language.
So, after almost 2 weeks travel along cities in Northern East of China together, my friend finally off on 1st of January, leaving me alone in Harbin. While my schedule back home was on 4th of January. I intentionally wanted to stay in Harbin longer because I wanted to go to the Snow Town that required minimum 2 days trip. Thus, I needed extra days in Harbin before coming home.
The problem was, the information about how to go to this Xue Xiang Snow Town or where to stay are very limited. I could not even find a hotel in Trip.com (OTA from China). Most of the people go there with a tour or rent a car, some of them was confident enough to go with public bus as they can speak Chinese. This Xue Xiang Snow Town located far in the country side where you don’t expect people can speak any English. This situation left me with one option, to go with a tour.
In Harbin, there were bunch of tours that offered a package to Xue Xiang Snow Town and Shuang Feng Forest. I probably had asked 5 of them with the help of Google Speech Translate, and there was one that could give me a very good deal. I got RMB 800 package deal for 2 Days – 1 Night including all activities and excursio, food, and accommodation. Meanwhile the other tour agency put a cost vary from RMB 1000 to RMB 1600. Indeed, I was so lucky despite the communication barrier!
Ok so, what crazy about joining that tour, it was 100% local Chinese tour. They only speak Chinese, including the tour leader. I completely relied on technology to speak to them. Thanks to WeChat that provide text auto-translate so that I could understand what the tour leader was saying about the meeting point. Lucky me again, he was helpful and effortful enough to make sure I understood.
The bus left the meeting point at 6 am in the morning. After 2 hours ride, we stopped at rest area for breakfast and toilet break. At first, I did not have any idea why everyone was off the bus just for toilet break. I just followed and apparently they also had a breakfast there. I did not buy any food since I still have snacks in my bag, I only bought tissue and heater patch for my hands and feet from the counter outside and then checking out the mini market. Maybe I looked so confused and awkward, a lady from the shop asking to check my pocket see whether I was stealing something or not since I just kept wandering without buying anything. LoL!
At the 2nd stop, everybody off the bus again while I was still clueless did not know what to do. So I tried to find my guide and ask him what to do with the help of Google Speech Translate. He suddenly called someone, a young guy, to speak to me. Apparently this guy spoke english!! You had no idea how sparkly my eyes turned when he started to speak in english. His name is Kevin, he study in Hong Kong. and he was on holiday with his aunt.
This Kevin guy told me everything I need to know about the trip, what to do, where to eat, what to prepare and every single thing the guide said until we finished the tour. He was that kind of cool and quiet guy but very thoughtful as he always make sure I got well-informed. He also tagged me along with his family when doing excursions. His aunties were amazingly nice, they literally took care of me. Although they did not speak english at all but they helped getting my excursions ticket, always offered to take pictures of me, and booked a seat for me in the same table as them. I was beyond grateful to meet them, seriously.
We had series of excursion even before we arrived at the Snow Town such riding horses sled to see forest village, as well watching Russian performance. But my highlight was to go up to the top of Yangcao mountain during the sunset time! To get to the feet of the hill we had to ride a snow tank (or truck?) so that we could go over the thick snowy path. And then we needed to hike up the slope a little bit before a snowmobile picked us one by one to get to the very top of the mountain to enjoy the sunset
I remember exactly 1 year ago, I went to Vermont USA – because I wanted to do snowmobiling. Unfortunately it was cancelled due to the weather condition. Turns out! I could do it this time even with a better landscape that I would ever imagine! Snowmobiling during the sunset……completely beyond my expectation. I swear I did not have any idea that this excursion is included in the tour, I thought it would come with additional price.
At around 6 pm, we finally arrived in the Xue Xiang Snow Town. The guide led us to the restaurant where we could have dinner, then took us to our hotel that sits at the end of main street of the village. It was dark but I could sense it was a pretty hotel because I could spot ice stalagmites hanging from the roof! Ahh so excited to see it on the day time!
The room was quite big with one normal king bed and a Kang that can contains 4 beds. Kang is a traditional bed stove that provide heat, it commonly used in Northern China. I shared room with a young woman from Guang Zhou, Ginny and her 3 years-old son, Yang Yang. Ginny and Yang Yang took the King bed, while I had all the 4 beds Kang for myself. So good!
In the evening, we were scheduled to watch local stand up comedy which I could not understand and then a free time to explore the snow town on our own.
The snow town is nestled in the valley of a mountain, where winter can be as long as 7 months straight, enough to make the area stacked with snowbanks that perfectly layering in every surface. A blessing in disguise for the neighborhood as it formed a winter fairy-tale look like we often see in the animation or children story book. It was surreal indeed, although there are some inhabited houses that intentionally being set up to be an object for tourist attraction. Not all of them though.
How cold was it? Well, it was for sure the coldest days in my life. Temperature hit -28° up to -30° when I was there. My face got numb and my fingertips hurt so bad even though I had 2 layers of gloves with a heater patch sticked inside. I wanted to explore more but the cold was so brutal and frustrating, especially when there was no place to take a break. The best thing I could do was to buy roasted sweet potato to warm my frostbite hands.
Although the village only consist of one main road, but it has plenty of attractions to enjoy as I saw people lined up to get into some places that I wish I could go as well. But since my body could not handle the cold pretty well and I was a bit afraid of getting hypothermia, so I decided to go back to the hotel earlier, have a nice hot shower and curl up under the blanket on my Kang. Which I don’t regret at all.
The next morning, I walked around a little bit, snapped some pictures around the village. It makes me realized that the village offered different ambience in the day time. I could see the mountain surrounds the village with towering pine trees. Heavy blanketed snow covered every roads and surfaces, looked so pure and tranquil. I liked how they decorated the village with red lanterns in contrast with white color of the snow.
Prior farewell to the village, Me and Ginny tried to throw a hot boiling water in to the air so that it could rapidly evaporated to cloudy ice droplets! Apparently it is something you can do only in the far below zero temperature. Wohoho super cool and so fun!
Before going back to Harbin, we still had one more excursion like visiting a set-up Russian village and trekking into the woods. I sticked with Ginny and Yangyang at that time, oh I am a huge fan of this boy. He’s just 3 years old, but very brave and independent. He always walked on his own although it was a long walk deep into the woods, he enjoyed the snow walk very much, he kept singing all along. Never once I heard him complaint of being tired to his mom or asked her mom to carry him. Shooo cutee.
Thanks to this trip, my perceive about Chinese people about them being selfish, ignorant, and mannerless are shifted. Kevin and his aunts are clearly very far from that, Ginny is such an adorable young mom that taught his kid really well (I shared the same room with her one night, enough to see how she interacted with Yangyang). Being the only foreigner at the tour did not make my tour leader neglected me too. Not forget to mention the wonderful old ladies that sitting next to my seat at the bus, they helped me a couple of times despite the limit on communication.
At this tour, I have met many beautiful souls that far from the awful stigma of Chinese people. Yet another lesson to learn.
PS : Not long after I came back home, China was getting hit by the pandemic of Covid-19. Although Wuhan is far from the North, but I really wish everyone would be fine and everything could be back to normal pretty soon.